Your next refrigerator may run on magnets

Refrigerators with compressors could become obsolete within a decade as engineers improve on magnetic refrigeration technology.

Magnetic refrigeration prototype in action
GE researcher Michael Benedict examines a cold one. GE

Your current refrigerator is running on some pretty old technology. The compressor system inside has been the standard cooling force for around 100 years. It's about time for a change, and that change may be coming in the form of magnets.

Researchers at GE labs are showing off a prototype machine that runs a water-based fluid through a series of magnets. It's a new innovation that harnesses an old idea known as the magnetocaloric effect. The magnetocaloric effect describes what happens when certain kinds of metal alloys get hot when near magnets, and cool when pulled away.

Years of work have gone into building a prototype the size of a cart that can reduce the temperature by 80 degrees. "This is a big deal. We are on the cusp of the next refrigeration revolution," says lead researcher Venkat Venkatakrishnan.

In a nod to what people really use their fridges for, the research team tested the device by successfully chilling some bottles of Coors Light.

GE labs estimates that a magnetic refrigerator would be 20 to 30 percent more efficient than its compressor-using cousins, and would not require chemical refrigerants. This would result in energy savings and make the process of recycling old machines much simpler.

This new type of refrigerator could be on the market within a decade, which would be good news for the environment, your energy budget, and your beer stash. Check out the behind-the-scenes video below.

 

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